Feminism

Review | The Calculating Stars By Mary Robinette Kowal (Or, Why Bree Loves Mary)

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Mary Robinette Kowal may be an actual goddess. Her ability to convey complicated emotional dynamics in an engaging and entertaining way is pretty much unparalleled.

Want to find out how she spoke to my soul this year? Watch the video below. I don’t cry, but I thought about it.

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A Big Fucking Hugo Sigh

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Well, I know it makes me naive and ignores a lot of fandom’s history, but damn if I don’t want it to be a haven. Science fiction and fantasy espouses some of what is best in humanity, and so I always hope that the people who love it will continue to espouse acceptance, love, and hope as well.

And so I made the best of the puppies.

And I forgave people who were internet jerks.

And people just keep giving me more and more strife.

Probably you’ve heard by now that there’s another dumpster fire in science fiction fandom. I wish this were less surprising.

TL;DR – Nothing that has come to light is great. I’m going to work to make it better. Here’s a plan, albeit limited by time, space and assistance.

https://giphy.com/embed/1wXeLxuTVBZe0Ht7Zu

I turned off my phone to sleep, and I woke up to news that the WorldCon 76 team had:

  1. Changed a person’s gender neutral pronoun bio to using the wrong pronouns
  2. Not put new Hugo finalists, largely persons of color and younger authors onto panels
  3. Sent dress codes to some individuals but not others “asking” that they dress professionally

Because, hey, it’s 2018 and why not?

I get it.

Conference running is really tough. Like on a scale of 1-10, probably an 8 or 9. I know; I’ve helped host thousands of people for academic events. Even in a place where you’re not coordinating dozens of panels and participants on top of booths, celebrities, vendors, and guests, you’re doing a lot of work.

But that doesn’t excuse shitty behavior

https://giphy.com/embed/wYyTHMm50f4Dm

So, let’s talk about this.

Shitty thing #1 – Screwing with bios and using personal pictures on programming

Well, this is easily one of the things that makes me the most mad. Program creators requested bios and photos from authors and other hugo-nominees and panel participants. +1 for having people explain themselves. Except they didn’t.

Bios were edited, including switching someone’s gender pronouns.

People’s professional pictures were skipped and personal facebook pictures (listed on private accounts) were used instead.

I cannot even fathom why this was considered ok.

Guess what, if you ask for a bio, as long as it isn’t wildly unprofessional or lewd, you should stick with that bio. In particular, you should NEVER change someone’s own pronouns. If someone tells you their pronouns, you accept those pronouns and move on. You aren’t the arbiter of pronouns and I promise you don’t know someone’s gender better than that person knows their own.

Using someone’s personal photos rather than a supplied professional one is a weird and invasive combination of ignoring privacy and not presenting your organization professionally. Just…What?

Shitty Thing #2 – Dress Codes

Rather than going on and on about this. I’ll just say, sending dress codes to some but not others isn’t ok. Hugo award nominees have enough on their plates, if a sparkly unicorn dress is their preference, it’s their damn night. Do what you will. I don’t care if someone is a man in a kilt, a woman in a miniskirt, or someone in a gender non-conforming outfit you don’t think is “pulling it off.” The nature of dress codes, in particular those espousing professionalism are both sexist and classist. I’m not here for that and I’m not here for it not being universally applied.

For a much more intricate look at the relationship between sexism and dress codes, here’s a fantastic piece by Everyday Feminism.

And this series of tweets shows a lot more at stake than who wears what type of heels.

 

Shitty Thing #3 – Not Including Members On Panels Because They Aren’t “Popular” or “Well-Known” Enough

https://giphy.com/embed/96jP5ZSpYxtwQ

Hugo nominees, in particular many of the younger nominees and those who have diverse backgrounds weren’t put on panels. Some of them have been receiving emails saying that they aren’t well-known enough to be placed on them.

This is ridiculous on two fronts:

1- Hugo nominees are definitionally well-known. To be nominated, you MUST have a not inconsequential presence and respect within science fiction and fantasy. PLUS, in theory at least, over the last five or so months, people have been reading those works and watching those movies and looking at that fan art. They have been a highlight in the community.

2- There is no way to make our fandom last without incorporating new voices. New voices are important to science fiction and fantasy. Without them, there will be no growth, and, frankly, growth is exactly what SFF needs.

At the very least, I’m glad I’m not living in a world limited to Heinlein and LeGuin. I want innovation and new perspectives, because this genre set needs that to maintain its lifeblood. And I want SFF to be around for a long, long time.

Fine, Bree, But What Are You Doing About It?

Right now, I’m talking to folks about setting up some outtings in San Jose. I understand this isn’t the same as at-con participation, but at the very least we can be a community that accepts one another. I’ll be working to get us accessible transit and will announce any outing plans soon, both here and on YouTube.

I’m bringing a fuck ton of pronoun stickers. I want to normalize inclusivity. The only way to do that is to make people realize that their world doesn’t have the rigid limits they think ought to be there and to call folks out on their incivility. If you show up at WorldCon, hunt me down. You can have a pronoun sticker for your badge.

I’ll be wandering with my Instagram stories going on throughout WorldCon. I want to talk to people about their favorite works, especially those that are debuts, new to you authors, #ownvoices, and that feature intersectionality. I’ll be posting frequently throughout the week.

Other things. Right now I’m open to suggestions. I want to help build community in places where community should be. Let me know your thoughts about what events or other activities you think should take place. Tweet me, comment, plaster my insta and YouTube with suggestions. Let’s make it happen.

 

 

Featured image photo credit: Facepalm Glax by Mattia Basaglia © 2017-2018 CC BY-SA

Some thoughts on Everfair by Nisi Shawl

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I won’t mince words; I wasn’t a fan of Everfair. I wanted to be, but wasn’t.

I got my copy in the mail and was so excited. I was ready to drop everything and start reading. I often have this feeling, but was spurred on by the promise of something truly spectacular and very rarely seen in western publishing. The idea of a well executed literary fantasy set in a steampunk version of Congo was like a big piece of cake staring me down. I may have actually squealed a bit.

I want to be very clear when talking about this, because for as much as I have my criticisms, Shawl is very clearly good at her craft. She’s eloquent and considered. Even having disliked the book, I came away with a positive impression of hers. I would chalk my struggles up to some of the construction elements rather than saying that her writing isn’t worth the read. You should pick it up and give her a try, at the very least, read some of her short work.

The story itself follows a group of missionaries and refugees living in a section of the Congo set aside to become a land called Everfair. One part safe have, one part socialist republic, the book follows a family from Britain that is trying to lead Everfair in their vision, occasionally with the help of the black population, and, more often, without the input or significant leadership of the black population. The family deals with death, abandonment, interracial marriage, and sexual orientation all the while.

My problems with the story were compounding.

The story format jumps between characters and timelines. So, you can go from following one character in 1810 to another totally different character in 1823 all in a matter of four or five pages. For me, this was confusing and left the story without a cohesive feel.

The plot was meandering and unfocused. Rather than having a clear end-point, it paused every few pages to talk about tangents or give unnecessary context. This was all without really adding to an overarching arc that would have given that cohesion the story desperately needed.

The characters were tough for me. They could have been very interesting, but not enough time ever seemed to be spent on them. We’d stop in on them every once in a while. But in the mean time, there were so many other characters to visit and so many other shifts in timelines and ages that keeping track was a challenge.

The story is clearly well researched and Shawl clearly spent a good deal of time thinking it through. Her writing is very atmospheric, but I didn’t find the style to be cohesive enough to compensate for the meandering plot. It was a promising story, but didn’t deliver for me. I’ll have to check in with Shawl’s next work instead.

 

The Ladies Who Could Have Been…

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My shelves are filled with ladies. I’m a fan of Leia and Rey; I adore Xena and Gabrielle; Buffy and Charmed are my sick day go-tos. I have feminist SFF coming out of my ears. But I spend a lot of time wondering if it’s really THEM that I like. Something about the Strong Female Protagonist is always going to grab me, but sometimes it seems like the Chinese takeout of the speculative fiction world: tasty and fun, but not always satisfying.

What I really want in my female characters has never been strength for strength’s sake. I want them to be rivers that run deep even when they look shallow. When I think about my favorite ladies, they tend to fit that mold. It’s not hard to see the complexity in Buffy’s character as the seasons go along.

I think what may be odder are the female characters I like who aren’t in the typical mold. I like many characters set up to be side characters and many of the main SFPs I can’t stand. It’s an interesting thing I’ve been thinking about lately. Read the rest of this entry »

Review | The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin

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I recently finished The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s the fifth in her Hainish Cycle, a series in which a variety of humans and human-variate species are slowly working to create a kind of federated utopia of planets. This particular installment was published in 1974 and received the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus awards for that year. My edition is the Olive Edition reprint and it sits at just under 400 pages.

The Dispossessed is a key work in the Hainish Cycle. It describes the creation of the Ansible, a communication device that allows planets to communicate with one another in real-time, despite how far apart they are. As a result, the story is key to a number of later stories in the same universe and shines light on some of the stories preceding it, like The Left Hand of Darkness, where the ansible is used.

The Dispossessed takes place in the Cetian system on two planets that are paired together, revolving around one another in a moon-planet like relationship. The main character, Shevek is an Odonian from Annares, a member of a religious-political faction that fled from Urres, the more lush of the two planets, over 150 years prior. Shevek and his fellow Odonians live in a kind of anarcho-Marxist utopia, where there is no central government, and people work communally to do what work needs to be done.

Shevek has spent his life dedicating himself to physics and the dilemma of sequentialism and simultaneity. In a sense, he’s dealing with the temporal aftermath of Einstein’s theory of relativity, and has come to find that his work is stunted on Annares; he’s frustrated by the inability to communicate freely with Urresians and, when the story begins, he is about to travel to Urres, the first Anaresti Odonian to do so since the Odonians left 150 years ago.

In contrast to Annares, Urres is a more typical capitalist and patriarchical society. While Shevek has gone there in search of a kind of eureka moment in his work and to disseminate it according to his ideal of freedom of information, he’s soon to realize that there’s more to the capitalist political system than he had thought and he becomes embroiled in political conflict.

In this story, Le Guin is examining a number of interesting political situations. While clearly critiquing patriarchal structures and the capitalist system, she is also examining anarchim, particularly anarcho-Marxism (the intersection of anarchism and Marxist communism) in the face of extreme resource scarcity. Both fans and critics have pointed to the story as an analogue for United States/ USSR relations in the Cold War. It brings under fire both systems and the use of proxy wars. While anarchism comes out in a more favorable light, Le Guin also points to the difficulty in having a society without government, including the continuation of power struggles that are maintained by natural social structures outside of government structures, the exercise of social pressure as a replacement for a criminal justice system, and the difficulty in providing for society’s needs without bureaucracy supplanting the anarchist system.

The story is interesting, and the plot is complex. Structurally, it’s split between two timelines: Shevek on Urres and Shevek growing up on Annares. This is part of what allows Le Guin to provide multiple criticisms throughout the story without them piling up on one another. It also provides a slow insight into Shevek’s “present” timeline with the problems that faced him before leaving for Urres. Le Guin takes a great deal of time describing the Odonian’s lives and structures. The reader is meant to explore Odonian society with and through Shevek’s growth, and through Shevek’s later observations contrasting Urresti (captialist) society with his own. This also allows the reader to slowly become accustomed to the strange speech patterns and behaviors of the Odonians, and to ease into criticisms of an anarcho-Marxist society that, especially during the Cold War, readers may have jumped to quickly and without examining their own assumptions.

Shevek is out-of-place with his fellow Odonians. Their society has come to a point of complacency with bureaucracy that constantly seems to frustrate him; he has no real outlet to overcome the social and political structures that seem to stifle his work; and he’s significantly more self-isolating than is considered acceptable by social norms. This makes him a very approachable character, not just to the reader, but also to the “true” anarchists and outliers of Anarresti society. Shevek finds himself constantly drawing people who want to challenge the system, as informal as it may be. I liked this about him. I think it was a very successful strategy for Le Guin and really helped the reader to digest what was happening. His fellows call him an “egoizer,” a “profiteer,” and a “traitor.” In many ways, Shevek is more likeable for the taunts and anger he draws.

The science is pretty handwave-y and the idea that a planet can be another planet’s moon was a little silly. But the science isn’t so much the point. Le Guin uses it as a way to talk about freedom of information and intellectual integrity. Shevek is constantly finding himself at odds with his own moral system, and that espoused by both Annares and the Urres. He’s constantly rejected by one and is being misused by the other. His search for a way out of the dilemma is interesting and leads him to take action that may otherwise be counter intuitive.

The side characters are interesting, particularly Shevek’s partner, Takver. Takver is a fish geneticist and the two are often far apart, fulfilling society’s needs where needed, but constantly drawn back to one another. Takver is left to deal with the consequences of Shevek’s studies, her own drive to create and understand, and the bindings of family life often by herself. While she doesn’t have her own point-of-view, she comes off as very strong and perhaps more resilient and accepting than others deserve. Le Guin at times seems like she wants to dive more into Takver’s story, but can’t, which made me as a reader feel frustrated at times.

Overall, I enjoyed the story and its contrasts and comparisons. I liked the characters and the way the story took twists and turns. It’s criticisms were appealing to me, and I liked having more background into the grown of the Hainish universe and its technology and people. I would suggest reading this as one of your first Le Guin books, though I am partial to Left Hand of Darkness, because I think the context it provides helps to make later books a bit more comprehensible.

Have you read The Dispossessed? What did you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Ladies Night In #3 | Temporary Agency by Rachel Pollack

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You may have missed this last ladies’ night, but don’t worry. You don’t have to ever miss one again! Bree’s Blog on YouTubeand subscribe to get book hauls, reviews, and other features from me in your YouTube subscription feed!